An essential aspect of the Savannah Music Festival’s mission is to stimulate arts education within the community.
This is especially true for children and young adults.
The SMF Jazz Academy is the newest addition to SMF’s education programs.
The academy is a free, after school program offered to students in grades 5-12 from the Savannah Chatham Public School System, and is held at the School of Humanities at Juliette Gordon Low Elementary and the Salvation Army Center on Bee Road.
Since 2003, SMF has cultivated a music education program that offers an outlet for area youth to learn about music and hone their craft.
“Jazz is really awesome for kids to learn because there’s such a rich tradition of the music. It takes a lot of rigor, but there’s also a lot of creativity, flexibility and improvisation,” said Jenny Woodruff, SMF’s director of education and community engagement.
Leaders at SMF say the academy strikes a balance between learning the traditions of jazz and its vibrant history, while also allowing students the opportunity to find their voice through musical creativity.
If one were to visit the Salvation Army on a Wednesday afternoon, they would be met with the timbre of a saxophone, the strumming of guitars, the rattle of a snare drum and the soft melodies of a piano.
However, it was not always this way. The program started in January, 2020 and shortly after had to transition to zoom classes in the wake of COVID-19.
Aaron Jennings, the manager for the SMF Jazz Academy, said that having the academy go virtual had its challenges, but despite this adversity, students in the program stuck through and their patience and hard work have yielded results.
“Some of the students who were in the program last year stayed on. Now they’re doing even better, having gotten almost another year of in-person learning,” said Jennings.
Christina Campbell, a 6th grader at Godley Station, has played the piano for over three years. This will be her second year attending the academy. For Campbell, jazz is a way to express herself and make friends.
“I really like the freedom that you have. With classical music, you’re very limited because it’s kind of uniform. With jazz, you have to improvise so you have a lot of musical freedom,” said Campbell. “What got me to come back for a second year was that I’ve never really had a group of people who collectively play music. It’s very fun to have people who relate to you and play the same instrument.”
This is echoed by Rodrigo Zenil, a Jenkins High School sophomore and a first year with the academy. After his mother found out about the program through Facebook, Zenil decided to give it a try.
“You get to express your feelings through your instrument. You’re learning about the style of music [jazz] and getting a feel for it,” said Zenil. “I’ve been learning a lot from the instructors from new styles, techniques and theory.”
Find out more information about SMF Jazz Academy at savannahmusicfestival.org